Australia I love you but you're bringing me down
The Gold Coast is a paradox: It's a city of the past and the future. It combines the worst aspects of times thought long gone with the advanced consumer capitalism of the 21st century – all in a completely postmodern (= hyperreal) environment. Baudrillard would have had a field day.
If you read the classic works of the 1960s, a time when Australia increasingly faced the prospect of social change, one receives the impression that not much has changed in the last 40 years – it's “The Lucky Country” all over again (or “Australian Accent” or “Australian Civilisation” or “The Australian People” for that matter): Authoritarian personalities often disguised as confused egalitarianism and the accompanying side-effects of not tolerating anything that differs from the norm (“Nice shirt, faggot!”) and anti-intellectualism. To paraphrase Horne: A narrowness of the imagination which can produce a suspicion of discussion, a lack of imagination, a mindlessness in decision and discourse. Just spend a night out in Surfers.
This “triumphant mediocrity” is augmented by a strong tendency towards crass, ego-centric materialism and the shallowness that comes with it; all forced by an approach of economic rationalism and neo-liberal dogmas that ask every activity to justify itself in terms of its economic value and doesn't leave much room for other values (but turn everything into a commodity). McMansions spring up everywhere and symbolize so perfectly the greed, selfishness and inward looking suburban parochialism – which certainly doesn't help to counter intolerant tendencies “The moral bankruptcy of economic rationalism has encouraged government and chauvinist elements to fill the void with a new nationalism to promote social cohesion and externalise internal aggression” (Eric Paul).
By speaking of consumerism and shallowness – it seems quite fitting that the Gold Coast is so perfectly hyperreal, it is indeed very representative of the condition of the 21st century: “Hyperreality is significant as a paradigm to explain current cultural conditions. Consumerism, because of its reliance on sign exchange value (e.g. brand X shows that one is fashionable, car Y indicates one's wealth), could be seen as a contributing factor in the creation of hyperreality or the hyperreal condition. Hyperreality tricks the consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation, and endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance. Essentially fulfillment or happiness is found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality, rather than any interaction with any "real" reality” (Wikipedia).
And I still haven't mentioned the schoolboy crush on America and erosion of civil liberties.
Still: I will miss Australia!
There are the obvious reasons: The weather, the landscape, and even though it's cheap the glamour is hard to escape.
I was privileged to be able to see some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, the magical outback, the majestic hinterland, monumental Sydney and marvellous Melbourne.
Then there are the people I met. Within a given critical range there is dry intelligence, good-sense and a good-humoured resistance to all pretensions and over-valuations making the ready acceptance of human beings almost mandatory (paraphrased from “Australian Civilisation”) – I'm really going to miss the easy-going and the unpretentiousness (yes, really – despite this pretentious text), the pleasant side of the mythical concept of mateship. And I think one can still ask the question: Who can argue with people who just want to be innocently happy in the sun-kissed adult playground that is Australia? And can you blame them? I certainly can't.
Also: If you look hard enough and despite the overall lack of (world-class) culture you'll realize that the Gold Coast has indeed interesting scenes to offer. Not to mention Brisbane! There's the Chophouse as the focus of the local music scene, there's Swinging Safari for the artistic bohemians. And if you still need proof: There's always Operator Please and their impressive rise. It's like the 1960s: Instead of focusing on the impressive achievements in the cultural and public sphere of an isolated country with a small population base (and there were quite a few) the critics focused on the perceived negatives and started unfair comparisons with overseas (something I catch myself doing this as well). What you have to keep in mind as well in this connection is that the Gold Coast grew very quickly; it never had the chance to develop a coherent local identity or some urban center which could have benefited the situation. At least it can now call a rugby team its own – that's definitely a step into the right direction, love or hate the sport.
And quite frankly: If I really hated this place would I devote so much time to it in my Ph.D.? Secretly I love the place and wouldn't ever want to miss the time I spent here. I also believe that best times are always lying ahead, so I'm trying to focus on the next step instead of looking back sadly. A step I'm taking with a very special someone, who's very brave to come with me. And I'll miss you guys, I miss the good times we had. See you in Melbourne next time!